Obituaries updated February 15, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Whitney Houston, 48, who ruled as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her image was tarnished by erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, died Feb. 11, 2012.

Officials found no signs of foul play; they are awaiting results of toxicology tests.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston. Sands promotional photo.

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Houston was one of the world’s best-selling artists. She wowed audiences with effortless, powerful and peerless vocals rooted in the black church but made palatable to the masses with a pop sheen. Her success carried her beyond music to movies, where she starred in hits like “The Preacher’s Wife,”  “The Bodyguard” and “Waiting to Exhale.”

She influenced a generation of younger singers, from Christina Aguilera to Mariah Carey. But by the end of her career, Houston became a cautionary tale of the toll of drug use. Her album sales plummeted and the hits stopped coming; her once serene image was shattered by a wild demeanor and bizarre public appearances. She confessed to abusing cocaine, marijuana and pills, and her once pristine voice became raspy and hoarse, unable to hit the high notes as she had during her prime.

Houston, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, was Aretha Franklin’s goddaughter and the cousin of 1960s pop diva Dionne Warwick. She started singing at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., as a child. In her teens, Houston modeled and sang backup for Chaka Khan and Jermaine Jackson.

Houston made her album debut in 1985 with “Whitney Houston,” which sold millions and spawned hit after hit. “Saving All My Love for You” brought her her first Grammy, for best female pop vocal. “How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love” and “The Greatest Love of All” also became hit singles.

Another multiplatinum album, “Whitney,” came out in 1987 and included hits like “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

•••••

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Singer David Peaston, who had a string of R&B hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, died Feb. 1, 2012. He was 54.

His mother, gospel singer Martha Bass, was one of the Clara Ward Singers. His older sister, Fontella Bass, is a noted singer whose single “Rescue Me” reached No. 1 on R&B charts and No. 4 on pop single charts in 1965.

Peaston’s highest charting song was “Two Wrongs (Don’t Make It Right),” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1989. His first album, “Introducing … David Peaston,” reached No. 7 on the Billboard R&B album chart in 1989. At the height of his career, he toured with Gladys Knight.

Peaston earned a degree in elementary education and taught in his hometown of St. Louis before moving to New York to pursue a career as a singer, where he began doing session gospel and R&B work. His career got a boost after winning several competitions on the “Showtime at the Apollo” television show in the late 1980s, winning over fans and the judges with his powerful rendition of “God Bless The Child.”

•••••

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Don Cornelius, the silken-voiced host of “Soul Train” who helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting-edge style, died Feb. 1, 2012, of an apparent suicide. He was 75.

“Soul Train” began in 1970 in Chicago on WCIU-TV as a local program and aired nationally from 1971 to 2006. It showcased such legendary artists as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Barry White and brought the best R&B, soul and later hip-hop acts to TV and had teenagers dance to them. It was one of the first shows to showcase African-Americans prominently, although the dance group was racially mixed. Cornelius was the first host and executive producer.

“Soul Train,” with its trademark opening of an animated chugging train, was not, however, an immediate success for Cornelius, an ex-disc jockey with a baritone rumble and cool manner. Only a handful of stations initially were receptive. It arrived on the scene at a time when the country was still reeling from the civil rights movement, political upheaval and cultural swings. It also arrived when black faces on TV were an event, not a regular occurrence.

“Soul Train” was seen by some at first as the black “American Bandstand.” It followed some of the “Bandstand” format, as it had an audience and young dancers. But that’s where the comparisons stopped. Cornelius, the suave, ultra-cool emcee, made “Soul Train” appointment viewing by creating a show that showed another side of black music and culture. Though “Soul Train” became the longest-running syndicated show in TV history, its power began to wane in the 1980s and ’90s as American pop culture began folding in black culture instead of keeping it segregated.

Cornelius was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1995 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

•••••

SAUGERTIES, N.Y. (AP) — Dick Kniss, 74, a bassist who performed for five decades with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and co-wrote the John Denver hit “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” died Jan. 25, 2012.

Kniss was born in Portland, Ore., and was an original member of Denver’s 1970s band. He also played with jazz greats including Herbie Hancock and Woody Herman.

Active in the 1960s civil rights movement, Kniss performed at benefits for a range of causes and played during the first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday.

•••••

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clare Fischer, a Grammy-winning composer who wrote scores for television and movies and worked with legendary musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, died Jan. 26, 2012. He was 83.

An uncommonly versatile musician, Fischer worked as a composer, arranger, conductor and pianist for more than 60 years. He is best known for his arrangements for Prince, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Branford Marsalis and Brandy.
Born in Durand, Mich., Fischer got his start playing piano and writing jazz-inspired arrangements for The Hi-Lo’s, an a capella quartet popular in the 1950s. He worked as the arranger on Gillespie’s “Jazz Portrait of Duke Ellington.” Fischer recorded 51 albums, ranging from jazz to salsa to symphonies, over his lifetime with his son, Brent Fischer. Nominated for a Grammy 11 times in the Best Instrumental Arrangement category, he won in 1986 for his album “Free Fall” and in 1981 for “Salsa Picante plus 2+2.”

•••••

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — King Stitt, 72, a pioneer in rap reggae, died Jan. 31, 2012, in Jamaica, after a fight with prostate cancer and diabetes.

The entertainer known offstage as Winston Sparks started his musical career in the late 1950s on Kingston’s circuit of sound systems. He is credited as one of the earliest performers of “toasting,” a vibrant form of Jamaican deejaying that directly inspired hip-hop music.

He is best known for songs like “Paradise Plum” and “Fire Corner.” He was a close collaborator of the late music producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, who ran the celebrated Studio One and guided Stitt’s career for years.

Leave a Reply